Fargo ramps up flood fight as Red River rises
FARGO -- The Red River is rising, clay levees are being laid down, and sandbags are ready to be flung into place as preparations for a major flood accelerated Monday.
As contractors began dumping clay and erecting 6-foot-tall TrapBags in neighborhoods near the river, forecasters predicted Monday that the Red River at Fargo-Moorhead will surpass major flood stage of 30 feet Sunday and reach 32 feet on Monday.
As of late Monday afternoon, the gradually rising river exceeded 16½ feet, but will begin a more rapid ascent when temperatures spike later this week, with forecasts calling for highs Sunday in the low 60s.
The National Weather Service has not yet issued a crest prediction for the Red River in Fargo-Moorhead. Forecasts extend seven days, and the peak is not expected within the next week.
The weather service predicted last week the crest would fall between 39 feet and 41 feet, though it could range from 38 feet to 42 feet.
"It really depends on how quickly the snow melts, how rapidly the temperatures warm up," said Jeff Makowski, a weather service meteorologist.
Even when the warm-up accelerates later this week, below-freezing overnight temperatures is expected to moderate the melt.
The city is building clay levees to 44 feet and sandbag walls to 43 feet.
The first clay levees are being built on Lindenwood Drive in south Fargo and Oak Street North -- a ritual that now has become almost a rite of spring in Fargo-Moorhead, preparing for what could be its fourth top-five flood in five years.
The dike on Lindenwood Drive will extend a half-mile north, beginning at the entrance to Lindenwood Park. The Oak Street levee will be a third of a mile from Eighth Avenue to 11th Avenue North.
In a special meeting Monday night, the Fargo City Commission unanimously approved building another temporary earthen levee on undeveloped land in the area south of Walmart at 3757 55th Ave. S.
The city has also accelerated offering buyouts to 76 homeowners. As of late Monday afternoon, the city received 21 acceptances, said Nancy Morris, assistant city attorney.
Morris said all of houses have been "on the radar," and should not have been surprised by the buyout offer. "But they were maybe surprised by the timing," she said.
Most of the buyouts are along the river corridor or drains, Morris said, and the deals won't necessarily be closed before this year's flood hits.
The City Commission also voted unanimously to make City Administrator Pat Zavoral and Mayor Dennis Walaker co-incident commanders for this year's flood fight. If the two ever disagree on a flood-related issue, it would come back to the commission for a final say, Zavoral said.
Also Monday, crews began installing 6-foot sandfilled TrapBags along Fifth Street south of Interstate 94, from the entrance of Riverside Cemetery to the Fargo Country Club.
Once the river reaches 25 feet -- a threshold predicted to arrive late Saturday -- construction will begin on the Second Street levee protecting downtown Fargo against floods topping 30 feet.
"We've got a solid week of work here," said April Walker, Fargo's city engineer, as trucks delivering clay loads to Lindenwood rumbled past.
If the situation changes, extra crews can join the flood fight to build protection sooner, she said.
The very late arrival of spring is allowing levee construction to begin earlier than in most flood fights, said Rob Hasey, a civil engineer for the city.
Normally, levee construction begins when the river has surpassed 20 feet.
Construction crews will work around the clock to build the levees, Hasey said.
"This levee's very important," he said, referring to the Lindenwood Drive dike. "It protects the water treatment plant."
Deployment of sandbags to neighborhoods begins today in Fargo, with deliveries to neighborhoods including Oak Grove.
Sandbag convoys begin today, and Fargo police ask the public to be aware of the movement of flood-fighting equipment.
During a three-day period, police will escort 526 semi-tractor loads of sandbags to four drop-off points in the city, beginning this morning at 7 and continuing through Thursday evening.
Drivers are asked to yield to caravans, which will be escorted by police squad cars with lights and sirens.
In rural Cass County, deployment of sandbags started in southern portions of the county Monday, with a priority given to riverside locations.
The first deliveries were to areas that will be inside clay levees, said Sgt. Tara Morris, a deputy sheriff and the county's public information officer.
A TrapBag levee will be placed north of Cass County Road 20. Clay levee construction in Cass County will begin today.
Because of the drought that preceded the wet winter and spring, some homeowners have been reluctant to allow access to their yards for sandbag flood barriers, Walker said.
"There's been a lot of hesitancy to let us in," she said.
The city must prepare for the high range of the crest levels predicted by the weather service experts, she said.
Reporters Erik Burgess and Mike Nowatzki contributed to this report.